The End of An Era. . . Finally

Could this be the end of the mighty Patriots' empire?

Bill Sikes

With the Super Bowl coming up this Sunday, a familiar team won’t be competing for the Lombardi Trophy this year. For the first time since 2009, the New England Patriots have failed to advance past the Wild Card round of the NFL Playoffs after their loss to the Tennessee Titans on January 4. This has come as a shock to the football world, and many have stated definitively that this is the end of the Patriot’s dynasty. On the other hand, some have said that this is only a fluke, and the Patriots will come back better than ever next year. There are arguments for each side of this debate though, and both side have strong support to back their claim.

Many thought that the Patriot’s reign was over after their 2018 Super Bowl loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. However, New England proved many wrong when they went on to win the 2019 Super Bowl against the Los Angeles Rams. They have also made nine of the past eighteen Super Bowls, winning six of them. This proves to never put them out of contention.

Although, many of these Super Bowl wins have come with some illegitimacy. In 2007, the Patriots were caught filming the New York Jets’ practices. This was ironically the same year where they went 16-0 in the regular season. Then, in the 2015 AFC Championship Game, the Patriots were accused of deflating game balls in order to gain a competitive advantage by making the balls easier to catch. The Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl that year as well. Most recently, in 2019, they were accused of filming the Cincinnati Bengals sideline the week prior to playing them with hopes that it would help them defeat the Bengals. The culmination of all these scandals is largely the reason that many NFL fans have such deep hatred for the Patriots, which also explains why many are rejoicing after their recent loss.

 However, many would still say the Patriot’s have arguably the greatest coach of all time in Bill Belichick. Belichick is considered a coaching wizard in his ability to always find a way to win when it matters most. He is able to outsmart opponents constantly, and just when teams think they have figured him out, he fools them once again.

 Furthermore, New England still has a very talented roster, especially when you look at the defensive side of the ball. They have lockdown linebackers in Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower who, according to Patriots.com, combined for 152 tackles, 3 forced fumbles, and 12.5 sacks. Devin McCourty and JC Jackson were incredible at the defensive back position as well, totaling 10 interceptions, 87 tackles, and 2 forced fumbles. The Patriots also have arguably the best cornerback in the NFL right now in the likes of Stephon Gilmore. Gilmore single handedly amassed 44 tackles, 6 interceptions, and 2 defensive touchdowns in 2019.

 It is clear that New England has the talent, coaching, and legacy to continue playing in a superior way, but there are also reasons to doubt their potential bounce back next year. To start off, age could be one of the biggest factors in a pending downfall of the Patriots. Some of the top players are starting to regress significantly with retirement looming.

 New England’s golden goose Tom Brady is now 42, and he has considerably shown signs of slowing down. Profootballreference.com stated that this year, he threw for 4,057 yards and 24 touchdowns. These are great numbers, but for “Brady” standards they are below average. In fact, that 24 touchdown mark was Brady’s lowest since 2009 when he only played in one game due to injury. Also, his passing yards total was the second lowest since the 2010 season. The only season he threw for less yards in that time span was in 2016 when he was suspended the first four games of the season.

Whether the end of the Patriots dynasty comes soon or in ten years, it will eventually come.”

To coincide with this, Brady’s performance from a spectators point of view was hardly impressive this year. The majority of his stats were racked up against many of the weak teams the Patriots faced within their easy strength of schedule.

At the moment, New England also does not have a sound replacement for Tom Brady. Their current backup quarterback is Jarret Stidham, who no one knows enough about to know if he could be the heir to Brady’s throne. The Patriot’s stunned the world back in 2017 when they traded away backup quarterbacks Jacoby Brissett and Jimmy Garoppolo, who now play for the Indianapolis Colts and the San Francisco 49ers respectively. Either one of these players could have been a solid replacement for Brady once he retires.

Another huge concern for New England is Julian Edelman. He has been the team’s top receiver over the past seven years. He is still playing at a high level, but he is 33 years old now, and many are unsure of how much longer he will be able to sustain that play. Retirement could very well be on the horizon for him. He has also had a few behavioral issues as well. In 2018, Edelman was suspended the first four games of the season for a performance-enhancing drug violation. Edelman was also arrested on January 11 of this year for damaging a vehicle, but he was later released. However, he is expected to appear in court on April 13. Outside of Edelman, the Patriots didn’t have any other sound options at wide receiver this year. This is also due, in part, to superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski retiring after the 2018 season.

 Recently, there has also been an emergence of very talented young teams in the AFC that could take the spotlight away from the Patriots. The Baltimore Ravens were led to a 14-2 record this year by their 23 year old dual threat quarterback Lamar Jackson. The Ravens took the league by storm with their ground and pound offense and the first quarterback to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in a single season.

Another heavyweight that could take down the Patriot’s in the future is the Super Bowl bound Kansas City Chiefs led by young quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Currently, many consider Mahomes as the best passer in the NFL, who also has the ability to get outside the pocket and extend the play too. Opposite to the Ravens, the Chiefs run an air raid style offense containing lots of passing plays.

Two less prominent teams that could also rise to the top of the AFC are the Houston Texans and the Buffalo Bills. The Texans have a top three quarterback in the league right now in the likes of Clemson product Deshaun Watson. They also have DeAndre Hopkins, a top three wide receiver. When these two get going, the Texans offense is borderline unstoppable. The Bills have portrayed that they can be a future contender as well this year. With the 22 year old lights-out running back Devin Singletary, 23 year old still-improving quarterback Josh Allen, and one of the best defenses in the league, the Bills showed everyone that they can give the Patriots a run for their money for years to come.

At one time or another, all dynasties come to an end. The Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s, the San Francisco of the 1980s, and the Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s were all dynasties that eventually ended. Whether the end of the Patriots dynasty comes soon or in ten years, it will eventually come. While I do not think that the Patriots are going to miss out on the playoffs and have terrible records in the coming years, I do believe that their absolute domination of the league has ended. However, the only way to be sure of this is to wait until next season when we will all find out for ourselves.